Midweek fixture: Naughty boys

On paper, Gavin Whyte is one of the best prospects to come out of Northern Ireland in years. When he scored 106 seconds into his international debut against Israel last year he was being hailed as the future of football in the country.

Gavin Whyte is also, at least on paper, a normal functioning human being. If normal functioning human beings pull their trousers down and pull their willies while someone films them on their phone.

Whyte’s antics were posted in Twitter shortly after he was handed the George Best Breakthrough Award at the Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards. What precisely has ‘broken through’ is now subject to some speculation. Best would have been proud.

Whyte isn’t the first, and won’t be the last of the Oxford United naughty boys, here are a few more.

Ross Weatherstone

Ross Weatherstone was not even the best Weatherstone to play for Oxford in 2000. The younger brother of Simon was a solid, but unremarkable, full-back who made his debut in 1999. At the start of the 2000/01, Ross the Younger chose an odd way to upstage his brother when he was convicted for a racially aggravated assault on a taxi driver.

Adam Chapman

Days before our pivotal Conference Play-Off final, it was announced that midfielder Adam Chapman was due to face trial for causing death by dangerous driving. The conviction pivoted around the fact he was texting before ploughing into 77 year-old Tom Bryan. Chapman put in a virtuoso display at Wembley winning man-of-the-match and left the field in tears. He was sentenced to 30 months in a young offenders institute. Chris Wilder re-signed him on release and he periodically returned to the first team, making more headlines when he missed a game after scolding his nipple on baby milk.

Luke McCormick

Chris Wilder was never one to let a conviction get in the way of a decent signing. He signed Luke McCormick in 2013 when Ryan Clarke’s season was ended by injury. To be fair to everyone, McCormick was a free man having been released from prison following his conviction for causing death by dangerous driving which resulted in the death of two children. Driving while over the limit and without insurance he was sentenced to seven years in prison. After his release, Wilder needed an experienced keeper he could sign outside the transfer window; McCormick was playing for Truro City meaning he was free to sign.

Firoz Kassam

The shadow that has hung over Oxford United for nearly 20 years is Firoz Kassam. Kassam was never one to avoid a fight if he could help it. In 2002 he used a spurious technicality to get out of a speeding fine. Which is just the kind of upstanding guy he is.

Joey Beauchamp

Joey Beauchamp is a bona fide club legend, voted The Oxford United Player of the 90s. The following decade didn’t treat him so kindly. In 2009 he was convicted of being three times over the drink drive limit while driving along The Banbury Road. In mitigation, Beauchamp said that his life had gone down hill and he’d turned to drink after ‘an incident over an MFI kitchen’. The mind boggles.

Mark Wright

Mark Wright was an Oxford boy done good. Making his debut in 1981 he was sold to Southampton before moving on to Liverpool where he lifted the FA Cup screaming ‘You fucking beauty’ live on television in front of the grimacing dignitaries. After playing a pivotal role in England’s fabled 1990 World Cup campaign he became Oxford manager as the club moved to the Kassam Stadium in 2001. In the October, he was accused of racially abusing a linesman, Joe Ross in a game against Scunthorpe. An act made more unedifying in that it was ‘Kick Racism Out of Football’ day. Shortly after he was sacked.

Jefferson Louis

There’s little doubting Jefferson Louis’ conviction… for dangerous driving while disqualified. After his release, Ian Atkins signed him from Aylesbury United in 2001 where he became a cult hero almost before he’d made his debut. All arms and legs, his legend was cemented when he scored the winner in a 1-0 FA Cup tie over Swindon before he was seen, live on TV, flashing his bare arse while celebrating being drawn against Arsenal in the next round. Louis is still playing for Chesham United, his 37th (THIRTY-SEVENTH) club.

Steve Anthrobus

One thing Steve Anthrobus wasn’t known for was scoring, in 69 hopeless games he managed a total of four goals. It was something of a surprise, then, to find Anthrobus scoring in a very different way when he was caught having sex, on a picnic blanket indeed, with a woman who wasn’t his wife. He was convicted in 2007 for ‘outraging public dignity’.

Julian Alsop

Julian Alsop was a great steaming lummox. A footballing Hagrid, part-striker, part-Wookie. He was signed by Ian Atkins as a target man in his team of long-ball merchants. In 2004, while already on his way out of the club, Alsop was fired for unprofessional conduct. Legend has it, he was caught engaged in some harmless banter, shoving a banana up the arse of a young apprentice.

Graham Rix

Graham Rix was one of the finest coaches in the country. That’s what Firoz Kassam said, and who are we to judge a man with such impeccable judgement? One of the finest in the country and perhaps THE finest to have been convicted for sex with a minor. In 1999, Rix was literally forty-one years old when he was arrested for having sex with a fifteen year old girl in a hotel. Rix’s defence was that she made no ‘strong’ protest to his advance. Which is to suggest there were some weak protests. But they don’t count, do they Graham?

Comment: Nelson’s column

Some transfers run smoothly, with fans wishing players well as they move onto the next stage of their career – think Ryan Ledson or Kemar Roofe. Some transfers are messier – Callum O’Dowda or Marvin Johnson. Some are just plain weird, as anyone who remembers the protracted saga of Mark Watson’s vanishing act in 2000 will confirm.

Curtis Nelson’s departure from the club is threatening to get messy. It should come as no surprise to hear that Nelson is likely to go either in January or at the end of the season. He’s an outstanding player with potential to play at a level beyond that of avoiding relegation from League 1.

At 25, his next contract will define his career and unless he’s offered eye-watering amounts of money or has developed such a bond with the club that he’s happy to be remembered as a loyal, if under-achieving servant – Joey Beauchamp? – it seems Oxford is unlikely to fulfil his needs.

No one should deny Nelson’s right to pursue his ambition, even at the short-term expense of the club. Fans will regularly remind you that no player is bigger than the club, but the quid pro quo is that no player should be naive enough to trust a club which may use its size and stature to retain or discard its assets as it chooses. Fans might pay today’s wages, but players must control their own future.

The question is not whether he should leave, but more how that might happen.

There’s been plenty of finger-pointing following Nelson’s uncomfortable interview after the defeat to Plymouth; some say he was being unprofessional and disrespectful, others say it was a calculated attempt by Karl Robinson to humiliate him and/or turn him against the fans.

Let’s start with that. The Nelson affair has been going on for some time. He was ‘stripped’ of the captaincy for the Wycombe game in September and even when John Mousinho wasn’t available he didn’t get it back.

At the time Karl Robinson said it was to give Nelson some breathing space to decide his future. I think it was more a crude attempt to force him to sign a new deal. Crude rather than manipulative. Clubs with a player like Nelson – a saleable asset coming to the end of his contract – have little room for manoeuvre, so perhaps the club thought removing the captaincy might expedite his decision.

Was Tuesday’s interview stage two in a calculated plan? If Robinson was such an arch schemer, I suspect we wouldn’t have had some of his more bizarre outbursts this year, for example giving Shandon Baptiste the captaincy or claiming that Jamie Hanson wasn’t his signing. I think it’s more that Nelson is usually a good man to put in front of the media and Robinson, under pressure, didn’t think through the circumstances or consequences.

A shrewder move would have been to keep Nelson away from the media and present him as a settled, happy player. That way any interested clubs might feel they need to spend more to prize him out of our hands. An unhappy Nelson is more likely to encourage clubs to offer lower fees knowing the player is more likely to want out of his existing situation.

Was Nelson disrespectful? It wasn’t a great interview, but he’d just come off a heavy defeat to his old team at a time when speculation around him was intensifying. Presumably some dialogue is going on now and perhaps has been for some time. In the short term, the club hold the key to his immediate future, so it must be frustrating to have to bite his lip while it all plays out. It’s reasonable to think that it’s consuming a lot of his headspace. Someone asking him about his future when everyone knows the media friendly answer is a non-committal ‘I’m focussed on Oxford until someone tells me differently’ must be intensely frustrating. In the circumstances, the frustration boiled over.

Despite the loss of the captaincy, there’s been no sign that he lacks motivation or commitment on the pitch. No player is completely impervious to external pressures or lapses in form, but if you were to list our weaknesses, Nelson wouldn’t be high on that list.

Ultimately, I don’t think either party is playing a particularly calculated game. What I think we’re seeing is another example of poor organisation within the club. I don’t know how post-match communications are handled; whether it’s the player, manager or someone else who decides who steps up, but it was clearly a mistake to put Nelson in front of the microphone given the position he was in. Everyone could have handled it better.

The problem is that with each new screw-up or wobble comes more questions and assumptions. You end up in a confrontational situation that no party intended or wanted.

Some managers handle these situations better than others, Robinson might wear his heart on his sleeve, but sometimes he needs to use his head to get the best outcome.